INTERVIEW With Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished, Anand Neelakantan presents an alternative perspective on the Asuras
The temple town of Tripunithura, near Kochi, has had a profound impact on Anand Neelakantan. The town with more than 100 temples is a rich repository of the classical arts. Mythology, as the author says, was not something you vaguely referred to during rituals or festivals. It was and still is a living tradition. There used to be debates and arguments about life’s problems and society as a whole, all based on the Puranas.
Anand used to take the contrarian view which did trigger a lot of heated debates with his conservative elders. But he always had the support of his father who believed that questioning is the first step in understanding something.
A student of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Tripunithura and FACT High School, Eloor, Anand went on to complete his engineering from Government Engineering College, Thrissur. He joined the Indian Oil Corporation, Bangalore. And only after all this did he begin to write seriously.
Asura: Tale of the Vanquished , his debut novel, that tells the story of Ravana and his people, was a chart topper in 2012.
In an e-mail interview Anand talks about his influences, debut work and more.
How do you view deconstruction of myths in a society like ours?
Myths never get deconstructed and Asura is not an attempt in deconstructing the myth. Myths evolve with time and get rewritten and reinterpreted again and again. The R amayana and The Mahabharata are not static stories. Over the ages, different people from different sub-cultures have reinterpreted it, retold it and repacked it many times over.
The strength of Indian mythology is that it is never completed.
Layer upon layer gets added on to. Asura is just a small speck in the vast universe of Indian Mythology.
In fact, literary stalwarts of Indian languages have been doing this for years. Compared to this, Indian English as a language is in its infancy, not withstanding its Salman Rushdie or Amitav Ghosh. As Indian English literature matures, we can see more and more authors digging into our own past, our tradition and myths to create their works.
In Malayalam literature we have had instances of epic stories narrated from different viewpoints. M. T. Vasudevan Nair's Randaam Oozham was one. You must have noticed them?
Great writers like M. T. Vasudevan Nair, Michael Madhusoodhan Dutta, Iravathi Karve, Shivaji Sawant etc. have been doing this for years in their respective languages. MT has always been an inspiration. However, Indian English writers suffers from many disadvantages. When we write in our own language, an author can leave many things unsaid and can be sure that the reader will understand that.
Indian English is an orphan. It is nobody’s language and everybody’s language. What it misses is the simple conversational phrases that can connect with the reader.
For example, an author in Malayalam can make a character use a particular slang of a region, say Thrissur, and the reader will understand that the character is from that region from the very first word the character utters. The author can play around with all the prejudices and preconceived notions that readers will carry about that slang without writing explicitly about it.
An Indian English writer loses this freedom and it becomes more difficult to give life to characters. That is what I said about Indian English being in its infancy.
How has the other versions of the Ramayana influenced your work? Is there any other version that looks at the story from another viewpoint?
It is said that every person has his own Ramayana . There are many works that has looked differently at the Ramayana and the Mahabharata . A. K. Ramanujam says that there are more than 300 versions of Ramayana . My take on Ramayana has been influenced by the many stories I had heard and lived in my childhood, by many folk tales I had heard in my travels and also by the many books I have read. I cannot pin point one particular Ramayana as influence.
Asura is not a research paper, it is a product of my imagination and experience and the hundreds of versions that I heard from people all over the country.
Bhadra is your own character. What's your take on this character? How do your place him in the context of the story and life itself?
I created Bhadra as an image of the common man. Bhadra’s voice is the voice of muted majority. Bhadra was created to draw attention to this fact. It would have been easy to just say the Ravana’s story.
Then, as an author, my contribution will be zero. Bhadra is the character that anchors the story. It gives a third perspective and it is his voice that prevents either Rama or Ravana to be deified.
Bhadra is the witness and the actor, the hero and the villain in his own story that gets entwined with that of great men. Bhadra is the bridge between the ancient world of Ramayana and today. He is the window that allows us to gaze at that hazy period through our modern eyes.
This work is good material for a film. Are talks on for this?
There have been talks with a few Telugu producers, but nothing has been finalised as of now.
I would love to have Mohanlal or Mammooty play Ravana and Salim kumar or Kalabhavan Mani play Bhadra, if it is made into a film in Malayalam.